Panel Determines United States Failing to Address Biothreat


The United States is failing to address its most urgent threat – biological proliferation and terrorism – concluded a report issued today by the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The commission also felt the Obama Administration has given appropriate high-level attention to the nuclear threat but noted the challenges loom large.

The Commission cited a range of missteps on biosecurity that lead to its conclusion: No senior-level advocate for biosecurity in the Administration, attempted funding “raids” on two critical biopreparedness programs, and lack of appropriate disease surveillance.

Specific concerns raised in the report, relating to U.S. biosecurity, include:

  • Developing a common understanding of the biothreat. While the National Security Council is developing a Bioweapons Prevention Strategy -the first of its kind – there is a lack of common understanding across the Administration and Congress about the threat of biological terrorism.
  • Executive responsibility. Although the President appointed a WMD Coordinator, the Commission strongly recommends the National Security Council needs a senior official whose sole responsibility is to improve America’s capability for biodefense.
  • Funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Project BioShield at the US Department of Health and Human Services. These programs develop and purchase medicines to prevent and respond to biological, radiological, or nuclear attack.
  • Disease surveillance. The nation needs to improve domestic and international disease surveillance in order to quickly recognize a disease emergency, whether natural or manmade.

The Commission found greater progress in regard to the nuclear threat, noting that 2010 is a critical year for global security and the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. President Barack Obama has made a series of significant speeches related to nuclear nonproliferation, endorsing the thrust of the Commission’s recommendations. However, real action is still to come, not only from the United States but also the world community.

The Commission report notes some successes in how the country was facing the threat of terrorism and WMD proliferation, including:

  • Reviews of laboratory security. Consistent with Commission recommendations, the executive branch has completed its assessment of how to optimize biosafety and biocontainment oversight. The Defense Science Board, the National Academies of Science, the Government Accountability Office and the National Science Advisory Board have also completed related reviews and will be valuable inputs for a national strategy.
  • Citizen engagement. The Centers for Disease Control deserves credit for its improved communications, to date, with the public about the H1N1 flu vaccine. In addition, the Commission commends the Business Executives for National Security for developing cooperative partnerships that improve emergency response, preparedness and resilience at the grassroots level. The Commission also recognizes the Department of Homeland Security for conducting its first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review and gaining input from more than 20,000 partners and stakeholders.

Other areas of concern for the Commission are:

  • Addressing Iran and North Korea, two chief threats to the nonproliferation regime, as well as Pakistan. The Commission is pleased with the focus of the Obama
  • Congressional reform to consolidate oversight over the Department of Homeland Security. There are currently 108 Congressional committees and subcommittees with oversight authority. Redundancies in oversight unnecessarily tie up resources and create inefficiencies detrimental to maintaining security.

The progress report is available at The Commission will release a more formal report card in January 2010.

To read the full press release, click here.

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